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By Kat McIntosh, Manager of Global Peer Support at Mental Health America

I have noticed a growing knowledge and awareness on imposter syndrome and the way it impacts various folks, particularly BIPOC communities. Imposter syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon) was first described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, Ph.D., and Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., in the 1970s, and is said to occur “among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success.” As a result, they may attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

The increase in available resources surrounding imposter syndrome is important in understanding this unique experience. I have found however my own lived experience lacking in these accounts. While being Black Caribbean has impacted my experience with imposter syndrome, my psychosis makes it worse.

When Mental Health America (MHA) asked folks what living with psychosis feels like, some stated:

  • It is hard to trust your version of the world around you.
  • People and things randomly become scary.
  • You are paranoid about the world around you and don’t want to be.
  • (You ask yourself) ...Is that real, or is that me?

In my own lived experience, psychosis symptoms are coupled with doubts in my perception of my reality, and filters into how I engage with my imposter syndrome. It has been my experience that psychosis in imposter syndrome can show up as:

  • Persistent thoughts of being judged
  • Voices accusing you of being a fraud
  • Increased anxiety at work due to fears of inadequacy
  • Persistent thoughts of comparison to other people

When I experience these situations, I constantly find myself in a balancing act of checking in with myself to ensure that I perceive myself correctly and that I perceive my world correctly. If you too experience an intersection between your experience of psychosis and your experience of imposter syndrome, there are helpful methods that you can use.

  • Speaking to a trauma-informed therapist. By speaking to a trauma-informed therapist, you can find a safe space to explore your experience of imposter syndrome and psychosis. I have found that this space allows me to bring language to my experience and speak about specifics related to it such as - what do my voices tell me, and how does that impact my feelings of inadequacy that imposter syndrome brings? Your therapist can also give you helpful tips that can allow you to thrive in your daily life. Visit our website for a list of therapy providers.
  • Attending a peer support group. By attending a peer support group, you can find a community of other individuals who may be experiencing similar experiences with psychosis. Peer support places value on lived experience. Sharing this experience with other peers can aid in your recovery journey and can even unlock a recovery journey for someone else.
  • Using ground techniques. Finding tricks that allow you to feel grounded can also help you with your experience. Grounding techniques for persons experiencing psychosis and imposter syndrome can include using senses to ground you back to reality, which then allows you to remind yourself that you are not an imposter. I have found that holding items such as crystals or a stress ball that engage my sense of touch while repeating positive affirming mantras allows me to ground myself to reality, and simultaneously reminds me that my imposter syndrome is not my entire reality. 
  • Allowing your nervous system to reset. Sometimes our nervous system simply needs to take a break and reset. You can try finding a space where you feel safe that does not have sounds or lights (particularly if you are sensitive to these). You can also use sunglasses, blinds, or dark curtains to help with blocking out light. Noise-canceling headphones can also be great at blocking out sounds. Giving your nervous system a chance to reset can give you a chance to pause, and make space to work through your feelings of imposter syndrome.

Living with psychosis and imposter syndrome can be difficult for anyone. When psychosis voices seem to worsen your feelings of inadequacy from imposter syndrome, it is important to remember to be kind to yourself. You are not alone, and you can find help and support. If you are unsure if you are experiencing psychosis, you can take MHA’s psychosis screening test.

If You Are in Crisis, Please Seek Help Immediately.

Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, text MHA to 741741, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.